"Gar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast."
- Amir Khusrau
If there's a paradise, it's here, it's here, it's here... in Kashmir.
The enchanting valley of Kashmir that is a conjuring expanse of white mist & snow in Winters and a dazzling emerald & turquoise idyll in Spring-Summer, is undeniably one of the most gorgeous places to visit in India. However, little does anyone know about the Kashmir Railways that provides an experience of all this beauty in its raw form, up, close & so personal that it is etched in the memory forever.
The Banihal-Baramulla Railway line in the heart of Kashmir Valley is the best way to experience the true enigma of the paradise and to get to understand the residents of the valley with greatest intimacy. The 119 km Broad Gauge Rail Route is a part of the Jammu-Baramulla Rail Route proposed to be fully operational by 2022. Currently, the construction of a patch of the route is in progress between the places Udhampur & Banihal. Once completed, the route would connect the state capital Srinagar to major cities of India such as New Delhi through the railway network.
Banihal lies at the threshold of Kashmir Valley, on the Southern face of the Pir-Panjal Range of the Middle Himalayas. As the shiny Cherry coloured trains take off the station, they soon enter India’s Largest Railway Tunnel (11.2 kms long) and cross over the Pir-Panjal Range to reach Qazigund. This is where your eyes can witness the vast Kashmiri meadows, with Bakarwals herding their cute sheep.
Running parallel to Jhelum & its tributaries, it does not take long for the train to reach some of the important stations of the valley such as Anantnag and Srinagar. The distance between Banihal and Srinagar is 78 kms, and the passenger train takes about 1.5 hrs to cover it. The entire length of the route till Baramulla is covered in about 2 hrs. The best part- A ticket to Srinagar from Banihal is for only 20 bucks, and unlike the cramped trains in other parts of India, the trains are laid entirely with Comfortable & Broad Chair Car Seats and large glass windows that provide the widest uninterrupted view of the landscape. Unusual, but rationally, the trains are equipped with central heating system. The trains run every hour between sunrise to midnight starting off from Banihal and Baramulla towards each other.
So, next time you are in Kashmir, you should definitely experience the joy of traveling in the Great Indian Railways in its Northern-most venture.
How to reach?
Until all the fragments of the Jammu-Baramulla Rail Route are completed, one can take a bus/ taxi from Jammu to Banihal and take the journey ahead towards Srinagar/ Baramulla. If traveling from Srinagar, the Srinagar Railway Station lies at a distance of 11 kms from Dal Gate, and the Budgam Railway station is about 8 kms from Srinagar International Airport.
Where to go?
From Srinagar you can choose to travel Southwards in the valley towards Anantnag which is a junction to get to destinations such as Pahalgam, Verinag & Kokernag, or towards the North to Baramulla to get to Wular Lake, Gulmarg & Yusmarg. The Baramulla-Banihal railway line has some of the best offers from the valley:
1. Verinag- Get down the train at Qazigund/ Hiller Shahbad, and you can find a local transport that would get you to Verinag, the origin of river Jhelum, which has a great history with regards to Hindu mythology and a series of Mughal anecdotes.
2. Pahalgam- Off you get at Anantnag, and in an hour you would be at Pahalgam, one of the most beautiful places in Kashmir. From Pahalgam, you may go to Aru Valley ( The place where Veera finds a home in the mountains in the movie Highway); trek to Mount Kolahoi; go for Marsar Tarsar trek; or Chandanwadi, the base for Amarnath Yatra.
3. Wular Lake- Wular Lake can be accessed through Sopore on the railway line. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. Away from the crowd of Dal Lake, it can definitely soothe your bird watcher soul.
4. Mazhom- If you are looking out to buy traditional crafts or woolens, Mazhom is where you can directly head to. It is the hub for crafting in the valley, and you can find yourself shopping Pashmina hosiery directly from warehouses built in the middle of Apple, Chestnut and Cherry Farms overseeing the Snow Clad Peaks of Gulmarg.
5. Gulmarg- You can get to Gulmarg from Mazhom or Baramulla Station. You can get taxis from the Railway Station to take you up to the Snow-Clad Peaks of Gulmarg.
And that's not all that you can enjoy in the valley, you may choose to get down close to any meadows you witness on the journey, chill for a while and board the next train to your destination. Does it get more pleasurable than that!
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